Davis Innovation Center Pulls Out

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Davis Innovation Center was a proposed 4 million square foot Innovation Center north of Sutter Davis Hospital.
Davis Innovation Center was a proposed 4 million square foot innovation center north of Sutter Davis Hospital.

Davis City Manager Dirk Brazil told the Vanguard late on Tuesday afternoon that the Davis Innovation Center was “put on hold.” Mr. Brazil stated that he was “surprised and disappointed.”

According to Mr. Brazil, he got assurances from the developers that this had nothing to do with city processes and that they were satisfied with the work from city staff. Mr. Brazil said he asked and they told him “point blank that the city staff has been wonderful to work with.”

The focus, he said, now shifts over to Mace Curve and Nishi.

The Davis Innovation Center was one of two formal applications that came forward out of the city’s RFEI (request for expressions of interest) process last spring. The project was described as a 208-acre high-technology innovation and research campus located at Highway 113 and Covell Boulevard.

The project proposed the development of a state-of-the-art innovation center campus for high-technology offices, research and development, hotel, and employee-serving retail and recreational uses with a proposed FAR (floor area ratio) of 0.5.

The proposed project contained about 3 million square feet of building space and, along with Mace and Nishi, the city was proposing adding 7 million square feet of potential innovation space.

However, the plan was not without its critics. In late February, residents of the Binning Tract, a 54-unit housing area outside of the city and just north of the proposed Davis Innovation Center, expressed their concerns about a development that they said would come within 150 feet of their backyards.

Concerns by the neighbors covered a large variety of issues, from flooding and impacts on the existing vernal pools and flood drainage system, in an area that floods frequently now — even during periods of relatively low rainfall. They are concerned with the size of the project, the impact of traffic on a roadway system that is narrow and poorly designed, in their view, as it is now.

In a statement from the Davis Innovation Center spokesperson Marika Rose, “After investing considerable time and resources to respond to the City of Davis Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI) and submit our proposal, we have decided to put our application on hold. Our decision is based on the assessment that getting approvals to develop this world class project at the current time is less likely to succeed than initially appeared.”

They added, “We strongly believe the City of Davis should entitle and annex land that can accommodate and support innovation centers. This can only be accomplished by a true public-private partnership in the spirit of the RFEI. We continue to believe that the project we have proposed could be a great asset to Davis and the region.”

The back of the existing neighborhood as seen from the southeast corner of the proposed development.
The back of the existing neighborhood as seen from the southeast corner of the proposed development.

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis told the Vanguard, “I received word from the city manager today about the decision of the partnership concerning the Davis Innovation Center to put the project on hold. I have not yet had a chance to talk to the principals and therefore have no further comment at this time. I look forward to better understanding the reasons for their decision.”

Councilmember Rochelle Swanson, who has been a chief proponent of the innovation parks and economic development in Davis, did not return a text message from the Vanguard late Tuesday.

Community Development Director Mike Webb did not comment on the specifics of the Davis Innovation Center Team’s statement, but he did reiterate that the developers told the city “they were very pleased with the process here in Davis and raised no concerns with respect to the review and analysis being performed.”

Last spring, the Davis Innovation Center was one of three responses to the City of Davis Request for Expressions of Interest for development of an innovation center. Two of these ended up as formal applications.

It was almost exactly a year ago that the council formally cleared the way for the RFEI to move forward, and it was Councilmember Rochelle Swanson who passionately and forcefully pushed the conversation forward, relating her experiences in Washington on Cap-to-Cap and reading Congressman John Garamendi’s letter into the record.

Councilmember Swanson said of her trip to DC, “This year I was lobbied. This year I was pressured. This year the region is wanting to know what are we doing and why aren’t we moving forward because they’re getting really worried because we have assets that nobody else has.”

Councilmember Swanson said, “We have been talking for a long time about what we’re going to do. The innovation task force has been talking for a number of years. We’ve talked about waiting for proposals… I do worry that this search for the perfect is going to kill the good.”

“We don’t have to change the character of our community,” she said. “I just want to make sure that people are aware that now is the time, we are going to have to work together.”

The pull out of the Davis Innovation Center means, as the City Manager indicated, that the focus will shift to Nishi and the Mace Innovation Center.

In October, the Mace Innovation Center filed their formal application along with a poll that showed 60 percent of the voters responding to the following question were in support: “Would you likely support or oppose annexing approximately 200 acres of farmland at the northeast intersection of I-80 and Mace Boulevard to build a new Davis Innovation research center?”

“The Project site is of an adequate size to address the City’s need for an innovation and technology park and is ideally located since it is contiguous to the intersection of Mace Boulevard and Interstate 80 and has fiber optic capabilities immediately available,” they wrote in their application statement. “The proposal comes in the aftermath of a determination by the Innovation Park Task Force that there is an increasing demand for space for technological research and development uses and inadequate sites within the City of Davis to accommodate current and future demand.”

Dan Ramos, who heads up that development team, was not able to comment on Tuesday night, but will have a follow up comment for the Vanguard.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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55 thoughts on “Davis Innovation Center Pulls Out”

  1. Barack Palin

    Our decision is based on the assessment that getting approvals to develop this world class project at the current time is less likely to succeed than initially appeared.

    We in Davis are our own worst enemies.

    1. Barack Palin

      Look at the drawing, it would’ve been a beautiful campus and created thousands of jobs.

      But no, the complaining about vernal pools, drainage, the addition of housing, traffic, Binning ranch ……..

      The Davis Innovation Center is being very professional in how they’re wording their pullback, but I’ll bet they just looked at what they were up against and said “(f-word) it”.

       

       

  2. Biddlin

    “surprised and disappointed.”

    I’m not sure why he’d be surprised. I think Rochelle Swanson’s remark about the search for the perfect is due a great deal of consideration.

    ;>)/

        1. Davis Progressive

          the problem isn’t the size, the problem is really that the people developing mace are not innovative developers.  hines developed facebook and amazing campuses.  what has ramos done?

        2. #me

          The “Ramos” property is controlled by Buzz Oates Real Estate – one of the largest commercial developers in the country. In contrast to Hines (out of Houston) they are local (out of Sacramento).  The Oates group is more than capable of being the master developer and putting in the backbone infrastructure.

          If the project design and execution is inadequate, that will be the fault of the staff and the City Council. They control the outcome, subject to ratification by the voters. If the staff/council allow tilt-ups in the zoning, then the Oates group will build a bunch of tilt-ups. That’s what they do. If they require first class multi-story steel-frame buildings, then they will find partners that do that kind of construction.

          If you want an “amazing campus,” then its up to the staff/council to design and entitle appropriately with a development agreement that insures execution.

          And size is a problem. That’s why the NWQ site was on the table.

        1. #me

          6,000 is a better estimate. As the key component of the City’s 20+ year economic development strategy, a yield of 300-500 jobs per year would be pretty pathetic.

        2. davisite4

          Why do you think that 6000 is a better estimate?  The campus that Apple is building in Cupertino is 176 acres and is expected to house 13,000 employees.  Is the land in the Mace proposal being used inefficiently?

          In any case, I think that is a huge number of people to be adding to Davis, whether they are commuting to Davis or living in Davis.

        3. #me

          If you look at efficiency is a function of FAR, Mace could do better. I think they are significantly below the minimum FAR stipulated by the RFEI.

      1. Jim Frame

        The Mace project is too small.

        At 185 acres, it’s about 90% the size of Davis Innovation Center.  If you add in the city’s 25 acres, it’s a bit bigger.

        1. #me

          The City’s argument has consistently been that we need the tax yield off of both the Mace and NWQ projects to solve the budget problem. We just lost about half of their proposed solution – hence my statement that Mace is too small. That being said, I’m skeptical about the City’s claims regarding revenue.

          1. Don Shor

            I don’t know that city officials have been that specific in their claims. Staff? Council members? Who has made that argument?

          2. David Greenwald Post author

            I don’t believe I have ever heard the claim from the city that we need the tax yield from both sites – moreover you are talking about a 20 year build out minimum. The Studio 30 report talked about the need for about 200 acres. The two sites were really more about hedging their bets rather than needing both sites.

        2. #me

          Don: Statements to that effect have been made during public hearings. Rochelle seems to be the biggest proponent of moving everything forward at once. It will soon be a moot point when the technical studies are released in the draft EIRs. Then we will have hard data and can make our own estimates of how many acres are sufficient to solve the revenue problem.

          It just occurred to me that the withdrawal of the NWQ project will probably mean that the public does not get to see their numbers. Very interesting. I wonder if this “suspension” is just tactical?

           

  3. Jim Frame

    I don’t find this news upsetting. The Highway 113 site isn’t as appealing as the Ramos site – it doesn’t have the same visibility, vehicle access is more complicated, data trunk lines are (I think) more distant, and the site isn’t surrounded by growth-protected land. While the DIC dropout removes some if the competition pressure on the Ramos project, the Measure R hurdle is high enough that I don’t see that as a big problem.

    1. Davis Progressive

      actually this is a problem.  the site wasn’t as appealing but the developers were world class and would have produced a far superior project.  i fear this means that ramos will go down and if nishi doesn’t fix the connectivity issues, it goes down as well.

      1. Miwok

        The site seems more appealing from the standpoint it is by the freeway, but not in the traffic pattern of other retail traffic who have no interest in going there. It is also located by the substantial apartment community of West Davis.

        This CC lost interest in them, maybe they also lost interest in Davis, or have another politician to get elected, oh, from, Solano County?

      2. #me

        The site wasn’t as appealing but the developers were world class and would have produced a far superior project.  Davis Progressive

        This rhetoric has been percolating among some city staff and council members since the RFEI’s were submitted. It’s damaging to the whole process.

        1. Davis Progressive

          i hadn’t heard that from city staffers.  i heard that from some in the community.  but i mean look at facebook and amazon – hines developed those campuses.

  4. Tia Will

    This looks to me like a reasoned decision by experienced business folks, in this case developers, based on their assessments of the overall pros and cons of moving forward or not with a major project. According to those of you who adamantly support the public sector, is this not exactly the type of cost benefit analysis that you anticipate that people engaged in private enterprise will make ? It would seem to me that those of you who herald the risk taking by the private sector would see this as merely how the market works . I fail to see how the actions of individuals , whether in private business or not, all promoting what they see as in their own best interests indicates that the city is somehow “broken”.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      How about death by a thousand cuts? Other cities have good or great revenues and tax base, which pay for swim parks, public pools, and roads.

      Either pass a $100-150 per year parcel tax, or continue to watch the roads and amenities crumble.

      1. Tia Will

        TBD

        Either pass a $100-150 per year parcel tax”

        I am absolutely in favor of this option. I believe that we should be willing to pay for the infrastructure and amenities that we want. I would be happy to pay that amount and to provide additional payment to funding for those on whom this would represent a hardship. I am sure that there are many, many other folks who could afford to do so also if such funding were legal and the city provided a mechanism to ensure that the funds were utilized for this purpose. In Davis, we have the money to institute such a system, what we do not seem to have is the will to do so. We would much rather pass the bill for our amenities to someone else whether that is new businesses, new residents of high priced developments, or our children.

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          It seems so simple! Davis is above the average in median income. It’s inane. Greed?

          Probably 75% of the city residents spend this much money, or more, on lattes, coffee, bottled water, or Jamba Juice. One problem may be greed; another is that residents may believe that the money will be frittered away on silly discussions, energy experiments, toad tunnels, “green” kooky ideas, staff salaries, lush pensions, Democrat slush funds, and other non-core, not-promised items.

          For any vote I’d want to see EVERYTHING on the table… no surprises once the vote passes. Haven’t I also heard rumors of a big bill coming down the pike for a new wastewater treatment plant?

        2. Miwok

          What I think doesn’t matter, but I think Davis Residents are in agreement with you, TBD. They want the basic services to run efficiently before anything else. They are tired of being swindled out of their tax dollars, for some politician to earmark it for something they will try to make a legacy out of, while not mentioning all the things they “forgot”.

          Like I usually say on this forum, the Press Release is Reality for them, not the accomplishment. Integrity and Honesty would be more valued, but might not get them elected.

        3. Alan Miller

          “Either pass a $100-150 per year parcel tax”

          Are you all forgetting that Davis is not all high income jobs?

          55% of Davis is renters.

          Renters have the parcel tax passed down to them through higher rents.  They also get the the water rates passed either directly to them or through higher rents.

          Unfortunately, being majority transient, they often don’t care enough to vote, to speak for the next wave of renter majority.

          Students often choose Davis because the rents are high but not insane like Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Berkeley, San Francisco . . . . the list goes on and on.

          Making Davis less affordable and more elite does not make a better city.

        4. Barack Palin

          Not only that Alan the City is now talking up a utility tax that only needs 50% + 1 to pass.  Then everyone will have a tax to added to all or at least some of their water, electric, gas…..bills.

          How’s that going to effect medium and low income home owners and renters?

        5. TrueBlueDevil

          Alan, $120 / 12 months = $10 a month for an apartment. Davis rents, last I checked, were way below UCLA or Berkeley or USC… not to mention safe and clean.

        6. Alan Miller

          Makes it more like SF, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and Berkeley. What places to emulate.

          Higher living costs aren’t going to bring the ocean any closer.

  5. davisite4

    Given the timing, this seems like more of a reaction to all of the “the budget isn’t so bad after all” remarks that we have been hearing.  I suspect that the developers know that without a strong need, voters are not likely to approve this.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i don’t know when they made their decision but the handwriting has been on the wall for some time – the city has moved away from the peripheral innovation park concept.

  6. Mark West

    The City should have prioritized the projects during the RFEI process so that the available resources could be focused on the project that the City viewed as having the greatest overall benefit.  Instead they punted on that responsibility and we are now having the decision made through attrition. One fewer project at this point is a good thing, but not so the process by which the decision was made.

    1. Davis Progressive

      that was the plan all along when the council majority declined to make the call back in february.  one fewer project at this point might be a good thing, but this is the wrong project.

    2. Jim Frame

      The City should have prioritized the projects during the RFEI process 

       

      I think the city deliberately declined to prioritize the projects in order to foster competition and to allow unforeseen opportunities to come forward. I don’t find that objectionable.

      1. Davis Progressive

        i’m sure they did, but what that fostered was not competition but a fait accompli.  mace had the more familiar local face (ramos), it has the tie to schilling, and so of course it was going to win and behind the scenes i’ve heard that the powers that be pushed this.

  7. #me

    According to Mr. Brazil, he got assurances from the developers that this had nothing to do with city processes and that they were satisfied with the work from city staff.

    This can only be accomplished by a true public-private partnership in the spirit of the RFEI.  Applicant

    Translation – Members of the City Council are to blame

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